Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything is Going According to Plan

If you look at the contemporary condition of the United States, it is easy to fall into the emotional sinkhole of feeling sad, bemoaning the sorry state of things, complaining bitterly and cursing your fate. It’s all coming unstuck! Is it even possible, under these conditions, to continue to entertain the sunny notion that everything is exactly as it should be in this, the best of all possible worlds? I sincerely hope so! There are, of course, the easy rationalizations of “it could always be worse” and “we ain’t dead yet”; however, few of us find them entirely satisfactory. But there is also the far more enticing possibility of understanding how we got here and where we are going. Once we achieve it, we can briefly blame ourselves for ever having expected anything different, and then move on to better things. This understanding is not easily won; for many of us, it is becoming increasingly hard to bridge the yawning chasm between the observed and the wished for. Just look!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Nuclear Solution

When, in the middle of a card game, you realize that you are about to lose your farm, your shirt and your first-born son, you may decide to go for the “nuclear option”: kicking over the card table while reaching for your revolver. Outcomes will vary, but they are by and large preferable to the one you foresee: one of extreme humiliation and poverty. You might be slow in reaching for it and die a painful but quick death from multiple gunshot wounds. You might be the quickest and either kill or disarm your opponents. Or your opponents might run for the exits, leaving you to pick up the money off the floor. The first of these outcomes may seem less than appealing; but supposing your fancy yourself well-armed and quick on the draw, and your opponents to be cowards, you may be able to persuade yourself that this is your best bet. As for worst-case scenarios, one possibility is that your foes will shoot the revolver out of your hand before you get a chance to fire, put a bullet in your gut, take your money, laugh at you, lock you in a woodshed and leave you to die slowly.

This situation is not too dissimilar to the one in which the US currently finds itself. Frankly, I would prefer to write on other subjects, but what is happening right now on our one and only planet is that there is a certain rather large and still influential country that is in the process of rapidly losing its collective mind. Having studied and observed the US over the past 40-odd years, and now observing it from a safe distance of nearly 8000 km, at the moment I can think of no more important subject to discuss, although I hope to get back to subjects more pleasant, peaceful and closer to home sometime soon.

In this I am hardly alone: much of the rest of the world is wide awake to the dangers of this situation, is busy discussing the threat it poses to them, and is devising ways of countering it. Meanwhile, much of the population of the US has become so inured to the violence that has been committed in their name—some 60 countries invaded, occupied, bombed, sanctioned, “regime-changed” or otherwise meddled with in recent history—that most Americans are no longer able to perceive how the situation has shifted from one favoring them to one favoring no-one in particular—but definitely not them.

How is the situation allegorically sketched out above not too dissimilar to the one in which the US currently finds itself? Allow me to enumerate the ways.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Danger of Being Taken Seriously

Suppose you are having Napoleon Bonaparte and Jesus Christ over for tea. Napoleon keeps talking about world conquest while Jesus Christ looks on quizzically. Once Napoleon finally shuts up Jesus Christ holds forth interminably on how the real kingdom is His, is not in this world but the next, and how it shall have no end. Which of them, if any, should you agree with? These are powerful men with big egos; any faux pas on your part may result in your treasured custom Alice in Wonderland tea set, delicately hand-painted by the skilled ladies of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, getting smashed to bits. Challenge any one of them, and he will turn on you; bolster the claims of one against the other, and one will turn on the other. Quite a conundrum!

Here are some helpful tips: [2259 words]

Saturday, August 05, 2017

QUIDNON: The Self-Sufficient Haulout

A self-sufficient sailor needs to be able to get his boat in and out of the water either with minimal assistance or entirely unassisted.

This need arises in a variety of situations, both common and less so:

1. To deal with maintenance and emergencies.

1.A. To redo the bottom paint and to make emergency repairs that cannot be done with the boat in the water. With Quidnon, the list of such emergencies is much smaller with most boats. There is no engine shaft, cutlass bearing or propeller; these are integral to the outboard engine, which is easy to pull out for servicing. There are no through-hulls below the water line; raw water intakes for the ballast tanks are via siphons. The bottom is surfaced with roofing copper that lasts longer the useful lifetime of the boat. The sides below the waterline need to be scrubbed and painted periodically, but this can be done with the boat drying out at low tide. Marine growth on the bottom, which cannot be reached while the boat is drying out, simply gets crushed and ground off against the sand or gravel and falls off. Still, there are situations when a haulout is needed for maintenance.

2.B. To get out of the water if a hurricane or a typhoon is bearing down on you. The easiest thing to do is to run Quidnon into the shallows in a sheltered spot and to run long lines out to surrounding rocks and trees. But an even better option is to haul it clear of the water first. While other yachts are busy hunting around for a hurricane hole (a sheltered spot with enough water to get in and out without running aground) or wait in line at a boatyard or a marina for an (expensive) emergency haulout, the captain of a Quidnon has plenty of options.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Laughing Gas War

Viktor Bogorad
There are many ways to kill one’s enemies: nuke them, bomb them with conventional weapons, make them fight each other in a civil war, starve them out using blockades and sanctions, undermine their economies through market manipulation and so on. Or, failing all that, you can try to make them bust a gut laughing. Previous attempts by the US to destroy Russia have failed. The use of nukes against Russia would reliably result in the US becoming annihilated in about 30 minutes. Conventional weapons wouldn’t make much of a difference unless the US staged a land invasion, and invading Russia has always been and remains to this day an act of suicidal stupidity. American attempts at isolating Russia internationally have failed. Sanctions imposed on Russia have caused little damage the Russian economy, which is continuing to boom. With no other options left, it would appear that the Washingtonians have decided to resort to the one and only trick still available to them: to resort to antics that might make Russia collapse from laughing too hard.

The Washingtonians’ clown act involves pretending, in all seriousness, that they are going to stop Russia from supplying Europe with natural gas and to take over this market themselves, which they plan to supply with their liquefied natural gas exports obtained through fracking. (Conventional natural gas resources in the US have peaked and shale gas obtainable through fracking is all that is left.)

Importing liquefied gas across oceans via tankers when the same product is available on the same continent via pipelines is a dumb idea on every level: cost, risk, reliability, technological complexity and, last but not least, energy efficiency because shipping gas is a waste of energy. Undaunted, the US Congress has just ignited an intercontinental gas war by imposing new sanctions on Russia and, incidentally, on any European company eager to ensure Europe’s energy security by working together with Russia’s energy sector. The US is also spending close to $50 billion to convert its existing liquefied natural gas import terminals to export terminals, and has approved plans for over 40 new export terminals and capacity improvements to existing ones.

The Russians, who make it their business to understand the natural gas industry, find this plan laughable. To be sure, not all Russians are laughing. First, there is a large number of Russians—especially those whose job is to “protect the Motherland”—who lack any discernible sense of humor, especially when it comes to threats emanating from the US. The latest Washingtonian shenanigans may add some amount of condescension and derision to their innate suspicion and mistrust, but we shouldn’t expect them to even crack a smile. Second, there are Russia’s forlorn pro-Western liberals who have never achieved much of anything politically, but at least they got to clean up on Western grant money while being coached by American diplomats and NGOs on ways to overthrow Putin. They are now plumbing the depths of despair. Lastly, there are all the Americaphobes among the general Russian population, who are forever talking up the American threat to democracy and world peace. It is hard for them to get their point across when everyone is so busy laughing at the ridiculous noise emanating from Washington.

What’s so funny? The humor of this situation needs to be explained carefully because it lies buried under a dense mass of technical details of which American politicians and Western mass media seem blissfully unaware. As usual, explaining a joke often renders it unfunny in the laugh-out-loud sense, but it can remain funny in the sense appreciated by professionals in the field of comedy who are able to declare that something is indeed funny while remaining perfectly serious. If you are an energy business nerd and have the time and the inclination to peruse a detailed and decidedly unfunny analysis of the situation, you should read this excellent article by Arthur Berman. If you are neither an energy business nerd nor a professional comedian and just want to get the joke, then read on. [2652 words]

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Great American Health Care Non-Debate

A friend of mine who lives in South Carolina was admitted to a hospital with cholecystitis (inflamed gallbladder). Her condition was severe enough that the ER physicians recommended immediate surgery. Tests showed her to be anemic, and so she was given an IV prior to surgery. In the process, she was asked what sort of health insurance she has, and she was foolish enough to actually answer the question instead of saying something like “I feel too sick to handle paperwork.” She has no health insurance because there are no options available in her state that would be affordable to her. She was discharged and out on the street a few minutes later with a prescription for a pain medication that is available without a prescription. She has been in intermittent pain ever since. If her gallbladder bursts, she will die. If she dies, her three children will become wards of the state, costing the state many times what her gallbladder surgery would have cost. You may feel free to conclude that South Carolina is run by idiots, but as we shall see the problem is much bigger than that.

Meanwhile, a mere half a planet away, another friend of mine got caught up in a street fight somewhere in Russia and ended up with a concussion and a broken bone. He was checked into a local hospital, where he convalesced for two weeks. He was provided with all the necessary treatments, including radiology, minor surgery, a cast for the broken bone, pain control medication, a regular change of bedclothes, three meals a day, TV time and internet access. He is not a Russian citizen and his knowledge of Russian is fragmentary, so the doctors and the nurses got to practice their English. He had an expired foreign passport with an expired Ukrainian (long story) tourist visa but nobody cared. He had no health insurance of any kind but nobody batted an eye. Upon discharge he was made to pay 8500 rubles (around 150 US dollars) which he did quite happily.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Facts on the Ground”

It is a sad fact that people in the West, and in the US especially, are presently living in a world that is bereft of actual news about what goes on in many parts of the world, especially the active conflict zones, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya. What they do hear is often based not on facts but on ideology, which is endlessly spouted by officials and think tanks in Washington. For instance, in Syria, Bashar al Assad, the Russians and the Iranians are said to be destroying the country and the Turks, the Kurds and various rebels supported by Saudi Arabia are attempting to “liberate” it whereas in fact Syrian government forces, aided by Russia and Iran, are liberating Syria from terrorists, including ISIS, which are supported by the Turks, Saudi Arabia and the US, and are doing quite a good job of it.

But perhaps nowhere is this ideological bias more blatant and obvious than in the treatment Russia receives in American mass media. Obama claimed that the Russian economy is “in tatters” because of Western sanctions; Senator John McCain is famously quoted as saying that Russia is “a gas station masquerading as a country”; and mass media echoes these fancies. But what if this “just ain’t so”? It is one thing to view a certain place through a certain lens, giving it a slightly misleading hue; it is another to suffer a psychotic break with reality and let wishful thinking, quite uncontaminated by any facts, serve as one’s guide.

Last week I flew back to St. Petersburg, Russia, after a five-year absence. As usual, it has turned out to be insightful to catch a periodic glimpse of a very familiar place. I grew up in St. Petersburg and have visited it seven times over the past 28 years. Catching periodic snapshots of a place allows one to see just the changes. This may not matter so much for places that don’t undergo drastic change; for example, over the same period, Washington or New York have hardly changed at all, their essential character remaining largely the same. But over this same period St. Petersburg, along with the rest of Russia, has been on a tare: it has undergone a total transformation from a stagnant backwater to a depressed hollowed-out shell to a thriving and vibrant place and a prime tourist destination.

To listen to and accept talk of “shreds” and “gas stations” is to choose to inhabit some parallel universe run by people who are willfully ignorant or psychotic and deluded or hell-bent on misleading everyone. And so plenty of people in the West, and in the US especially, are walking around with an assortment of fanciful notions in their heads: that Russians drink more than anyone (actually, that would be the Lithuanians); are the most depressed and suicidal (that would be the Latvians); or choose flee their country in greatest numbers (the Estonians). Or they think that Russia is an oppressive, corrupt dictatorship that sustains itself solely through oil exports (Saudi Arabia); or that it is hell-bent on world domination (that would be the United States).

On my previous visits, I have caught very different glimpses of St. Petersburg. In 1989 I saw pretty much the old USSR except for a lot of talk—it was the “glasnost” period—much of which later turned out to be not quite accurate. In 1990 I saw the old order teetering on the brink, empty shelves in government shops and the economy nearing a standstill. In 1993 I observed many signs of social collapse, with most people living in abject poverty and middle-class, educated people digging around in the garbage or trying to sell their belongings at flea markets to buy food. In 1995 and 1996 I saw a land in the grip of ethnic mafias, with goods sold from locked metal booths erected in city squares and on vacant lots. In 2013 I saw a city that has made a full recovery, with a vibrant economy, close to full employment and a people cautiously optimistic about their prospects. And so what did I observe this year, 2017, after several years of Western sanctions? Is it a place “in tatters,” as Obama would have it, or something else entirely? [2608 words]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trump Trolls America

G-20
A remarkable meeting took place last week—the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin—and I would be remiss not to comment on it. In viewing videos of the meeting (the few snippets shot during the brief seconds when journalists were allowed to stampede into the room, pushing and shoving) it became clear to me that these two people connected quite well, finding in each other an intelligent and sympathetic interlocutor. Many people would find this characterization strange. It is common to see in Putin an inscrutable, cryptically menacing cipher, and in Trump a chaotic, bloviating buffoon. In a sense, they are right, but only on the surface. That surface, in the case of Putin and in the case of Trump, consists of a carefully synthesized public persona honed over many iterations and practice runs. For each of them, it has been conditioned by the specifics of Russia and the US, respectively: what the people there respond to well, what they expect and what they are capable of. The specifics of their public personae and what conditioned them are interesting in their own right. But what’s really important is what lies beneath them… [2240 words]

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Nature’s Conquest of Man

Simon Norfolk
For a little over four centuries now, starting in the 1600s, the dominant narrative in the West has been “Man’s Conquest of Nature.” From there it spread around the globe as “Man” (in a rather specific sense of various gentlemen and their servants) vanquished all who stood before him. And even now, as the West enters its senescence, torn apart by internal conflicts, failing demographically, overrun by migrants from a wide assortment of failed states and courting environmental disaster at a planetary scale, it remains the steadfast belief of victims of public education around the world that “the purpose of nature is to serve man.”

This belief is at odds with nature because, as it turns out, in the natural scheme of things the function of man is to be eaten, and of a lucky few to accidentally become fossilized. These days many of us are turned into ash, to save space—a wasteful process, biologically speaking—but normally, if disposed of underground our destiny is to feed the worms, the bugs, and other decomposers, while if left to rot on the surface the crows, the vultures, the rats and various other scavengers are only too happy to oblige.

Put into proper perspective, eating us up isn’t even that big a task. Fed through a compactor and stacked in 1-ton cubic blocks, all of humanity would fit into a cube a bit less than 1 kilometer on the side. Spread evenly over the entire surface of the Earth, we would form a film barely 1 micron thick—undetectable without special equipment and short work for the planet’s microscopic biota. Compare that to the thick microbial mats which gave rise to the crude oil deposits which we are currently burning through at breakneck speed: the average human burns through eight times his body weight in crude oil every year.

It is the crude oil, along with coal, natural gas and uranium, that multiply our puny power to a point where the results of our activity become visible from outer space over large stretches of the planet’s surface. Crunching the numbers, it turns out that burning crude oil allows us to multiply our physical, endosomatic energy by roughly a factor of 44,000,000. Add in coal, natural gas and uranium, and you get roughly a hundred-thousand-times amplification of our puny physical powers. It is this that has enabled man’s recent, and short-lived “conquest of nature.” Without fossil fuels the best exosomatic energy we can harness is a team of two horses, oxen, water buffalo or what have you. Any more than that becomes hard for a single human to handle. The horses and other large ruminants multiply our power by a factor of 15 or so. But that, if you think really hard, is plenty.

It is known that the hundred-thousand-times fossil-fuel-based amplification of our meager physical powers is going to dwindle over time, leaving us with a couple of horses to fall back on—if we are lucky. Going from hundred-thousand-fold to fifteen-fold is surely going to come as a shock for some people, causing them to claim that this will spell the end of human civilization. Others claim that human civilization is doomed because burning roughly half of all the recoverable fossil fuels in just a couple of centuries has destabilized the climate. As if that’s not enough, Prof. Guy McPherson boldly predicts that humans will be extinct by January 1, 2026 (which falls on a Wednesday). And at the extreme far end of the spectrum of luminaries spouting dire predictions we find Prof. Stephen Hawking. Listening to the radio, I recently heard him proclaim, in his vintage robotic voice, that Trump opting out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change may end up making Earth resemble Venus, with lava fields and rains of sulphuric acid. He said that we better get cracking on building space colonies if we want to survive.

I vehemently disagree with pretty much all of the above. To find out where I stand, and, more importantly, to figure out where you stand, please continue reading... [2266 words]

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Embarrassing Times

At this point, I am finding the task of commenting on what is happening to the United States less than enjoyable. The whole thing has become an embarrassment.

Having spent many years living and working in the US, I justifiably feel implicated in what it does. Once upon a time its many crimes—bombing, invading, destroying and undermining countries around the world, poisoning the environment, promoting every sort of injustice for the sake of short-term profits—made me angry. It was the anger of youth, borne of the unfounded, optimistic conviction that it is possible to effect change by voicing one’s negative opinions. I am not so young any more, and have become dead certain that no amount of political involvement on my part (or yours, for that matter) would change anything at all, and so what I have been feeling for years now is not anger but sadness.

More recently this sadness has been overlaid with a sense of embarrassment, which has most recently become quite acute. It is one thing to rail against evil—a heroic, youthful stance—and quite another to feel self-consciously awkward in the presence of extreme stupidity. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that of the Americans—at least of those I see around me and hear and read in the press and the blogs—virtually none seem quite capable of experiencing or manifesting embarrassment about the sad state of their country. Perhaps my ability to feel embarrassed by the actions (and inactions) of those around me comes from some place else—an import that fails to thrive on the thin, toxified soil of American public life. The feelings that do thrive here are increasingly vicious: buckets of vitriol are being hurled across the political divide. The fact that this divide is nothing more than an artificial means of gaming a political system that has completely failed in its ability to express the popular will, or to harness it for any useful purpose, only serves to increase the embarrassment.

The ability to feel embarrassment is key to any possible new beginning, be it for a person, a group or a society as a whole. Allow me to explain…

Continue reading…

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Are humans even necessary?

What a terrible question to even ask! Of course, we are necessary: it is the function of the universe to serve our needs and wants, isn’t it? Isn’t that the point of everything—to provide for our well-being and security? Well, that’s one way to look at it, and it is based on a certain assumption: that humans are in control. But humans have been steadily relinquishing control to machines for a couple of centuries now, and by now the vast majority of us is unable to comprehend, never mind control, the machines on which our survival depends in all of their awesome complexity. A few highly placed specialists can still get at the levers that control some of the machines, but their function has been reduced to serving the needs of the machines themselves, not human needs. The assumption that humans are still in control is starting to seem outlandish.

The next assumption to question is that the machines serve human needs and wants. Yes, there is still plenty of evidence that they do, for quite a lot of people, and in the more stable and prosperous societies most of the people are provided for in some manner. But there has been a marked tendency for societies around the world to become less stable and less prosperous over time, as resources are depleted and the environment degrades. The typical solution to that has been the imposition of austerity, which deprioritizes human needs over those of the machines—industrial, commercial and financial—which must continue functioning in order for the rich to continue to get richer. Perhaps the situation where the machines serve human needs is a transient one? Perhaps most humans are just a legacy cost, to be eliminated in the next round of cost-cutting?

To be sure, the machines would still be required to serve the needs of the billionaires, and the millionaires who serve them. But as for the rest of humanity, perhaps at this point it is just an unnecessary burden from the machines’ point of view? Indeed, it would appear that many different efforts are underway to whittle away at this burden. Let us take a trip down memory lane, to see where we came from, and then try to catch a glimpse of where we might be headed.

Continue reading… [2524 words]

Monday, June 19, 2017

Prince Kropotkin is for sale!

I am selling my sailboat in preparation for building the first Quidnon. It's a proven and capable ocean cruiser set up for living aboard, either at a marina, at a mooring or anchor, for coastal cruising and for the open ocean. It's in good condition, carefully maintained, reasonably priced at 28,500 USD and is a turnkey solution for someone who wants to live aboard and cruise around. Here is the full listing with all the details. If you are interested, please contact the broker, Capt. Mark Covington.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Terrorizers, the Terrorists and the Terrorized

The word “terrorism” is getting thrown around a lot. Wipe it out in one place, and it pops up in another. Outside of various places in which terrorism forms a backdrop of foreign invasion and civil war, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the drumbeat of terrorist attacks is constant and increasing, terrorism is not one of the primary causes of death. Among Western nations, death due to choking on food is still far in the lead, not to mention fatal falls due to broken furniture and accidental impalements on household implements. But such deaths are hardly ever staged as public art pieces, whereas acts of terrorism are quintessentially public acts, designed to panic large numbers of people and cause even larger numbers feel unsafe in public spaces and while traveling—for a while, until the effect wears off. And then it’s time for another one.

Continue reading... [1926 words]

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Past-Peak America

Most places we care to look, we can observe a commonplace pattern: some phenomenon reaches its all-time peak shortly before commencing a swift or a steady decline. Drug habits reach their maximum dosage right before the addict overdoses. Morbidly obese patients attain their maximum weight right before their internal organs give out. Fever reaches its peak right before it breaks, and then the patient either recovers or dies. Water surges to its highest level right before the dam breaks. Financial pyramid schemes reach their pinnacle right before they fail.

Even during the downward slide a temporary improvement is sometimes possible. For example, the US reached its all-time peak in crude oil production around 1970. After that, oil production declined for decades, with a minor, temporary improvement when production from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska went on stream in the summer of 1977, and a major one achieved using hydrofracturing technology and a very large and mostly unprofitable speculative investment.

If you still think that “fracking” is a game-changer, consider that the technique was pioneered by the Soviets back in the 1950s, but they determined it to be a waste of resources and have never used it. What made the Americans turn to this old and discarded technique was desperation: they had virtually nowhere else left to drill except in shale. While fracking has produced a temporary glut of both oil and gas, fracked wells deplete extremely fast, and thus the surge in production is going to be but a blip—an impressive one, but still just a blip—on a trajectory of overall decline.

But this, most likely, won’t even matter. If you look at other things that have recently peaked, are peaking now, or are likely to peak in the near future, there aren’t going to be as many reasons to burn oil in the US. If inexorable decline in crude oil production is paralleled by inexorable decline in other areas, then it will all work out nicely, at least in the sense that it won’t be an oil shortage that will be the main driver of collapse.

Instead, there are many drivers of collapse, and they are of two kinds: the waning of all that has so far prevented collapse from occurring, and the waxing of all that accelerates it. Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading... [3067 words]

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Collapse Mitigation Strategies

Almost a decade ago I wrote an article in which I defined the five stages of collapse, defined as inflection points at which faith in key aspects of the status quo is shattered and a new reality takes hold.

It is useful to have a taxonomy of collapse, even if it’s a tentative one. Treating collapse as one big ball of wax is likely to cause us to believe that everything will melt down all at once, and, barring certain doomsday scenarios, which are probably not even useful to consider, this is probably not a realistic or a helpful approach.

Also, one big ball of wax is not what we have been observing in the years since I wrote that article. By now, the Earth is a petri dish populated with various strains of collapse—or a collapse soup, if you will. It is an open-air collapse laboratory running many uncontrolled collapse-related experiments at the same time. Perhaps, if we observe carefully, we can learn to discern the various stages and to determine how they interact.

In this update on my February 2008 article, I tackle the issue of collapse mitigation: What can we do to avoid the various worst-case scenarios?

Continue reading… [2884 words]

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Speech



How would you like to build yourself a free place to live that doesn't take up land?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Walk in the Garden of Unintended Consequences

“Blow a horse in the nose, and it will swish its tail,” goes one saying. It’s a silly one, but it captures a common thought pattern: do A to achieve B. As we grow up, we learn many such thought patterns, and as adults we expect them to continue working. We don’t necessarily know why they work. We don’t have time for complicated explanations and rationalizations; but we do know that they work. A time-saving approach is to simply try them and see. Do they still work?

And then there is a thought pattern that work at a meta-level: use any given trick too many times, and it will stop working. Blow a horse in the nose too many times, and it will will bite or kick you. “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” one might say. This is something else that we learn growing up, and it tempers our enthusiasm as adults for pushing things too far. Very interestingly, this only works at the level of the individual or the small group; as societies, we always push things too far—to the point when they stop working.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Boat for the Reluctant Sailor

A couple of days ago I conducted an interesting social experiment. I joined the largest Facebook group dedicated to sailing a cruising, and started a discussion thread about QUIDNON:

“Looking for some advice from group members. For the past two years I have been working on a boat design with two other engineers. It is a 36-foot houseboat, with private accommodations for 3 couples and 2 single people. It is also a surprisingly seaworthy and competent sailboat. We've tested a radio-controlled scale model and it sails really well. Now we are looking forward to building the first full-size hull. It's going to be a kit boat, featuring high-tech manufacturing and rapid DIY assembly. Don't hold back, what do you think?”

The results were roughly as follows:

Continue reading...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Venerating Stalin’s Ghost

Stalin’s Funeral
A few days ago, on May 9th, Russia celebrated the 72th anniversary of its victory in the Great Patriotic War, or, as it is known in the West, World War II. All but unnoticed in the West, this is a very big deal in Russia. All elements of the parade, the speech, the music—the iconography—are by now beautifully polished. It is a key ritual of Russia’s state cult. Its religious nature is manifested by Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, who, emerging from within the walls of the Kremlin standing in a classic Soviet-era limousine, makes the sign of the cross: if you are still stuck in the frame of “godless communism,” you need a rethink. Although the parade is a display of military might, unmistakable in the collection of modern military hardware that rumbles through the Red Square, the overall message is one of peace. “Russia has never been defeated, and never will be” is the overarching message. And although Russians want to be recognized for their tremendous sacrifice in pursuit of victory, they see this victory as everyone’s: everyone—even the Germans—benefited from the Soviet destruction of a perfect evil in the form of Nazi Germany’s genocidal machine.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Olduvai on the Dnepr

I have been in the collapse prediction business for over a decade now, with relatively good results overall. One aspect of predicting collapses that remains troublesome is their timing. The reason why it is troublesome is well understood: collapse is a sort of phase transition, and phase transitions are notoriously difficult to time with any precision. It is also nearly impossible to establish what has triggered any one of them. When will a raindrop of supercooled water suddenly turn into a snowflake? Only the snowflake knows. What triggered the collapse of the USSR? If you too have an opinion on the matter, please stuff it. Thank you.

Another aspect of my method that could be improved is its lack of quantitative rigor. I have been able to make a great number of fairly accurate qualitative predictions, all of them based on reasoning by analogy. For example, after observing the collapse of the USSR and its immediate aftermath, then imagining, using thought experiments, how it would map onto the collapse of the USA, I was able to formulate something I called Superpower Collapse Soup. Its key ingredients are: a severe shortfall in the production of crude oil, a large, systemic trade deficit, an oversized, bloated military budget, an outsized military incapable of victory, crippling levels of runaway debt and an entrenched, systemically corrupt political elite incapable of reform. During the decade since I came up with it, the events I have predicted have been unfolding with some precision. The USA has been steadily losing its economic and military dominance; it can no longer get its way in the world diplomatically; the last straw will be the loss of its financial stranglehold over the global economy.

It is fun and instructive to watch superpowers jostling for position and eventually collapsing, but that is just a backdrop to a far more important phenomenon that is starting to unfold with increasing speed: the waning of the industrial age. Here is another analogy: the idea that ten years from now most of the currently industrialized world will be clearly, obviously far along on the path toward deindustrialization seems just as outlandish now as the idea that the USA would rapidly lose its position as the world’s one remaining superpower seemed a decade ago when I first broached the subject.

But there is also an important difference: industrial activity is far more easily quantifiable than such matters as political and military dominance. In particular, Richard Duncan’s Olduvai theory provides a good guide to the upcoming events. Its longer name is “the transient-pulse theory of industrial civilization.” Its main idea is that the industrial age will span roughly a hundred-year period, from 1930 to 2030, with a peak somewhere near the middle. His prediction is that by 2030 industrial activity will decrease to 1930 levels.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Revenge of the Polite Men in Green

The US appears to be preparing for a nuclear first strike against Russia. It has installed ballistic missile defense systems in Poland and Romania, with the preposterous claim that they are there to protect Europe against nonexistent Iranian nuclear-tipped ICBMs. These supposedly defensive installations can also be used to launch nuclear missiles into Russia. And recently the US has placed its F-35 fighter jets in Estonia, which is just a few minutes’ flight from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. These jets are capable of carrying nuclear payloads. Without any doubt, these steps have made nuclear war more likely, if only by accident.

There are two possible ways to view this aggressive posturing: as defensive or as offensive. Viewed as defensive measures, are they needed, and are they effective? Viewed as offensive measures, are they effective, and what will be the fallout (no pun intended)? And if the US were to engage in the extreme folly of attempting a nuclear first strike on Russia, what would be the effect of this folly, personally, on the aspiring American war criminals who would get behind such a plan? Should they be afraid—very afraid—and what precisely should they be very afraid of? Let’s take a look.

Continue reading... [1948 words]

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Talk in Boston

I'll give a talk and Q&A on QUIDNON at the Artisan's Asylum in Somerville, MA at 8pm on Thursday, May 4th. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Obsolete Maps, Unfamililiar Landscapes

In his recent blog post, A Matter of Mercy, James Howard Kunstler compared the common state of mind of the USA to that of an Alzheimer’s patient. Themes pop up in the news and mass media mouthpieces wax hysterical about them. Then, abruptly, their mouth music stops, and thème du jour vanishes from view. “Russian meddling” in the US presidential election made a lot of noise; and then… crickets. Moving right along, there was an alleged chemical attack in Syria (of which there is still no verifiable evidence); therefore, “Assad must pay” (by having a handful of unused 30-year-old jets blown up). Awkwardly, only about a third of the very expensive Tomahawk cruise missiles manage to reach the target (the wrong end of an airfield). Even more awkwardly, the Russians take this opportunity to show off their previously top secret electronic warfare equipment. And then the story dies (just as the US refuses to authorize an investigation into the chemical attack). And then it’s on to North Korea. And so on, endlessly.

Kunstler makes the point that the national dialogue in the US is plumbing the depths of senility: disturbing images flash across the screen; some number of supposedly well informed and right-thinking people make loud harrumphing noises about them along the lines that “something must be done,” and then… nothing! That, indeed, is what we have been observing. But what are the root causes of this serial national amnesia? Even if it looks like senility, may this be just a symptom of an entirely different national ailment? After all, not everyone in the US is senile… A much better explanation is not hard to find. Let’s delve.

[Continue reading… 3013 words]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ridiculously versatile

The world is full of boats that do just one thing quite well. QUIDNON is not one of them: it does a great number of things adequately and just one thing ridiculously well.

Ocean yachts are designed for ocean cruising and racing. They make poor houseboats due to lack of space. They can’t go through shallows because they have a keel. They don’t make good canal boats because their masts can’t pass under low bridges. They require a crane or a Travelift for hauling them out for maintenance. They are expensive. They are also quite slow. They can’t carry much freight.

Motor boats are sometimes big enough to make good houseboats. They are either unable to make long ocean passages because of their limited range, or they are expensive to take on ocean passages because of fuel costs. They can go faster than sailing yachts, but then their fuel consumption becomes quite ridiculous. When used as houseboats, their large engines make a poor investment. They also require a crane or a Travelift for maintenance. Some of them can carry a considerable amount of freight, but this makes them slower and increases the fuel consumption.

Houseboats are either houses built on floats or boats that can’t handle rough water. They are reasonable to live on and can be used on rivers and canals, but they can’t venture out on the ocean, never mind make ocean passages. They don’t carry freight.

Houses are great to live in—much roomier than any boat. But they do have two major shortcomings: they don’t move, and they don’t float. This is increasingly a problem: lots of houses are lost to flooding every year, and the toll will only go up as oceans rise and extreme weather events associated with climate change become more frequent. If an area where you have built a house becomes unpleasant or dangerous, you can’t just move the house but have find yourself a new dwelling.

Boats do float, but with most boats nobody particularly wants to live on them on dry land. On land, both yachts and power boats have to be put up on jacks, and then living on them is like living in a treehouse, with a long climb up a ladder just to get home. If a flood causes them to float off the jacks, they are unlikely to settle back onto them. Instead, they fall over and get damaged. Then they don’t float any more.

Houseboats generally do better on dry land than other kinds of boats. The Dutch have built some houses on barges that are designed to float up and down. When the water is low, they bicycle home; when the water is high, they row a dinghy. That’s a good idea in a country that’s mostly under water. But I haven’t heard too many stories about people living on houseboats on dry land.

QUIDNON is specifically designed to do a great number of things adequately.

Continue reading...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Announcing: QUIDNON Crowdfunding Campaign


For the next month or so we will be trying to raise money to build the first QUIDNON. If you want to see this project realized, please consider making a contribution.

We have t-shirts, posters and books for those who donate.

And if you donate $500 or more (USD) we will do our best to deduct the amount of your donation from the price of your eventual order of the QUIDNON kit (if and when it becomes available).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Mystery of American Violence

In a recent article, Paul Craig Roberts examined the violence unleashed on the world by a succession of recent US presidential administrations. Most of these acts were either partly or entirely illegal under international law, and all of them without exception were initiated with bogus justifications. Roberts concludes that “Washington is a collection of morons, people stupid below the meaning of ‘stupid’.” Yet he himself sounds dumbfounded: “What is the reason for all the death and destruction and the flooding of the West with refugees from the West’s naked violence? We don’t know.” The only rationale he can find is that “…violence is what America is. There is nothing else there. Violence is the heart of America.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Groundhog Day in Syria

When listening to people you shouldn’t necessarily trust (because, for instance, they are known to be liars) it is very important to try to assess whether or not they are lying. And so it is with the representatives of the US government and their counterparts in the EU: they have lied about a great many things in the past; are they lying about Syria now? They lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and used these lies to start the Vietnam war. They lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and used that to justify the invasion of Iraq. They lied about humanitarian disasters in Kosovo and in Libya, and used these to dismember Serbia and to destroy Libya. And so a good, conservative starting point is to assume that the Americans are lying, then search for evidence that would indicate that this time they might be telling the truth. Let’s take a close look.

Continue reading… [3,367 words]

Friday, April 07, 2017

QUIDNON: A Guided Tour

There are lots of exciting developments for this project. First, we are zeroing in on the design, putting the finishing touches on various pieces. Second, we are about to announce the crowdfunding campaign to the world, so stay tuned.

In this post I will provide a look at all the more important elements of the design by presenting and narrating detailed views of the 3D model.

We start our tour underwater, as a scuba diver would, approaching a floating QUIDNON from below.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Demiurge and the Banality of Evil

During my recent book tour to promote my book Shrinking the Technosphere there were several occasions when I found myself hard-pressed to answer a simple question: “But what is the technosphere, really?” Calling it is an “emergent intelligence” sounds highly intellectual but doesn’t answer the question of what physical entity, if any, possesses that intelligence. Saying that it is a generalized property of human minds bolstered by such things as internet servers and robots again misses the mark: how can a property have an agenda—which is to pursue an abstract teleology of infinite growth and total control? At one point I ventured that the technosphere could be conceived of as a spirit, and that its influence on the human minds it holds captive could be characterized as a sort of demonic possession.

Let’s keep in mind that however we choose to characterize it, be it as “emergent intelligence” or as “demonic possession,” we are still completely reliant on metaphors. And since one metaphor may very well be worth another, it seems worthwhile to ask which metaphor happens to be more effective and accurate. This is bound to vary by audience: those who are cerebral, agnostic and try to find out about the world by reading nonfiction (and perhaps science fiction) probably find the term “emergent intelligence” more palatable than “demonic possession” while those who feel their way through life might think that things invisible are all of one nature whether they sound scientific or unscientific.

And so, following on the last post, which explored the confines of what is known about “the guy who created the universe” in this one we test the limits of what can be achieved by considering the technosphere as a demiurge. We will again do our best to adhere to anaphatic theology, which relies on what can be observed and reasoned about rather than on the creative outputs of revelation, prophesy, imagination, wild fancy or plain old lunacy.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reality is not an option

I just got back from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I participated in a panel discussion with John Michael Greer, James Howard Kunstler, Chris Martenson and Frank Morris, moderated by Kevin Lynn, on why reality is not an option in contemporary American public discourse. It was professionally filmed and the video is available on YouTube. Now that I am back on the boat, I will rest from the travels, then work on next week's post, in which I will answer the question I posed at the end of last week's post. (Those of you who agreed to pay the princely sum of $1/month know what it is.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The guy who created the universe

A great divide runs through the world. On one side you have people who insist that they love Jesus and that you should too, or who prostrate themselves toward of Mecca several times daily, wear a hijab and/or grow out their beards and mustaches. The bearded and mustachioed women among them generally prefer to wear a burqa instead, and who can blame them. On the other side you have those who consider themselves educated, and therefore enlightened, and who look down upon the Jesus-lovers. They generally decline to do the same for the Muslims, at least in public, out of political correctness. Instead of finding succor and solace in their faith, this latter group seeks to achieve the same effect by popping pills.

I believe that I am in a position to help bridge this gap because I have spent a lifetime on both sides of it without experiencing any cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I am an engineer by training and had a career in high energy physics designing equipment for experiments that tried to find out whether protons decay, why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe, and just how precisely can we measure a certain physical constant before the project runs out of money. On the other hand, I am ordained as Reader in the Orthodox Church, know how to chant in Church Slavonic and am generally conversant with the culture and the rituals of Orthodox Christianity. In the interest of helping people understand each other better, I want to try to bridge this gap by posing and answering a few probing questions such as: “Who is this God character anyway?”, “Does it make any sense to say that God either does or does not exist?”, “How can we prove that our faith in science isn’t blind?” and “No matter what we believe, aren’t we all delusional anyway?”

Read more… [2,618 words]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Going into hiding...

For the past couple of weeks I have been hiding behind a paywall. This has been working out quite well. First, I have stemmed the flow of effluent known as "blog comments" from evil-wishers. Good riddance! Second, I have an incentive to work on a weekly essay that I didn't have before. Lastly, and least importantly, I am no longer speaking truth in public. I am now speaking truth in private. Speaking truth in public is, given the decrepit state of this republic, a seditious act. Thank you for your understanding.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

“A Houseboat that Sails” in the Press

A write-up on Quidnon has been published in Bob Hicks' venerable publication, Messing About in Boats. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From Hypocrisy to Cynicism

Our wondrous, mysterious universe abounds in sudden changes of state. They can be observed at every scale: huge stars suddenly collapse into black holes; droplets of water suddenly turn into snowflakes. Sometimes such almost instantaneous transitions are induced to good effect: soft iron is transformed into the hard martensite of tool steel; soft graphite is compressed into super-hard industrial diamonds. Whenever such shifts occur, they display one common property: their exact timing is arbitrary, and therefore impossible to predict. Thus, seismologists can predict the direction and the distance of a tectonic shift, but not when it will happen. Even very simple systems studied in carefully controlled laboratory settings, such as tiny sand piles, behave unpredictably. The triggering event may be significant enough to be measurable, or it may be infinitesimally small and thus undetectable. But one observation is valid for all such phenomena: they run their course very quickly relative to the duration of steady-state conditions that precede them.

Such shifts of state are not limited to mechanical systems but also affect behavior of groups of animals. The sound of a single gunshot can cause a flock of birds to fly up or a herd of grazing animals to set off in a stampede. Humans are not immune from such behavior either, and panicked crowds often surge toward the exits, crushing people underfoot. But it is human society, in all of its complexity, that can undergo the most dramatic and impressive shifts of state. Governments crumble, empires collapse, financial pyramids evaporate, and people are left scratching their heads because they can’t identify the triggering event. But just as it doesn’t matter which single snowflake triggers an avalanche, this is irrelevant: the trigger is not the root cause.

As the social order decays, previously equitable arrangements are gradually transformed into blatant swindles. Social tensions build. At some point some relatively insignificant event—these days it might be a tweet, a “hot mike” incident, the death of a public figure—sets off a chain reaction in which nobody wants to fall behind the rest and remain as the last fool to believe in a lie, but numerous people spontaneously opt for a horrible end to the status quo, seeing it as preferable to horror without end.

All of the above qualifies as “hand-waving analysis”—pretty much just words. But I intend to go beyond hand-waving and propose a conceptual model and a technique for analyzing various aspects of societal status quo in order to gauge how close any given society is to the point when a huge effect can ensue from a tiny, arbitrary cause. To this end, I choose to employ a couple of morally and philosophically loaded terms such as hypocrisy, skepticism and cynicism—but I intend to strip them of any moral significance and treat them as purely functional descriptors of psychological mechanisms. The model of society I will use may seem somewhat unsophisticated, but I think that it will suffice for our purpose—which is to be able to spot the situation when a heretofore stable society turns into one “rigged to blow” at any moment and without any warning.

Continue reading…

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Real Nuclear Threat

[Please note: all new original content will only be accessible in full to those who pledge a minimum of US$1 per month through Patreon. Worthwhile content doesn't grow on magical content trees, you know. I intend to continue posting every Tuesday.]

On January 26, 2017 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board has moved up its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to metaphorical midnight, and it now stands at just 2.5 minutes to midnight. Why did the Board decide to make this change? Essentially, “because Donald Trump.” In other news, the Board also observed that although the Paris climate accord is a good thing, the climate is pretty close to midnight as well.

These are very serious people: well-educated, professional, some Nobel Prize winners—in a word, experts. We should trust their word. But then they trust Donald Trump’s word. What gives? Apparently, none of them are experts on Donald Trump. I don’t pretend to be one either, so for the paragraph that follows let me turn it over to my old friend and resident expert on all things Trump, Captain Obvious.

“If you look at Trump’s business dealings, he has been consistently cautious and risk-averse. If you look at his political maneuverings, and glance briefly at his book, The Art of the Deal, you discover that his negotiating technique always involves making an extreme first offer, then seeking compromise. And if you look at his Twitter feed, you discover that he loves to troll people. Have these respected Atomic Scientists been trolled? It would certainly appear that way…”

And so I remain entirely unimpressed by the untestable hypothesis espoused by the atomic experts that Trump’s mouth is capable of moving the minute hand of the doomsday clock. But I am even less impressed by something else: the complete and utter failure of these nuclear sages to understand what the actual nuclear threat is, which is, at this moment, becoming quite extreme. For this they may perhaps be forgiven; if all they do is read and listen to Western media sources, then they would never find out anything about it. Western intelligence sources are no better, seeing as they appear to have been “hacked by the Russians.”

In fact, it would appear that the only way to get an inkling of what’s really going on…

Continue reading…

Eating Your Animals

The message of the recently published book Prosperous Homesteading raises very few objections with most people. Some elements initially surprise, especially those that haven’t received much thought. These include the motto “No farming!”: farming is a business that feeds strangers in exchange for money; a homestead is a family that feeds itself; these concerns are orthogonal. Another element that may be hard to grasp is the entire financial scheme that allows homesteaders to prosper: no debt; no monthly bills; no insurance; only the bare essentials as far as unproductive assets such as a house or a car; few assets at risk. The suggestion that young people should work, save, buy land and start families instead of going to keg parties and cramming for tests while hung over may seem radical to some; but then what about the radical notion that young people should be pushed into the higher education racket, from which a majority of them emerges with few practical skills, uncertain job prospects and a mountain of debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy?

Yes, such practical considerations take a while to wrap one’s head around. But another point of confusion comes from an image, apparently held by many, that a homestead is a house with a garden. Homesteading is not gardening. You should certainly eat your vegetables and, since you won’t be shopping for food any more, you should certainly grow plenty of them. Fancy horticultural experiments are not out of the question once the homestead has achieved prosperity—defined as not needing an external source of money—but the basic ingredients for success are water (from rainwater capture), energy (in the form of deadfall harvested from the woodlot) and hay (from hayfields and pasture). These are all free—which is why you shouldn’t pay for them. Energy grows on trees, water falls from the sky, and grass keeps growing… provided you spread manure on the hayfields, and for that you need livestock. Hence, Jeffers concludes, “No livestock—no homestead!”

Friday, March 03, 2017

Interview on Legalise Freedom

Podcast link

Over the past two centuries we have witnessed the wholesale replacement of most previous methods of conducting both business and daily life with new, technologically advanced, more efficient methods, but what exactly is progressive or efficient about this new arrangement is hardly ever examined in depth. If the new ways of doing things are so much better, then we must all be leading relaxed, stress-free, enjoyable lives with plenty of free time to devote to art and leisure activities. But a more careful look at these changes shows us that the rapidly evolving brave new world of gadgets, gizmos and constant connectivity is instead a metastasising matrix of manipulation and control in which we have become slaves to money and machines. Creeping ever closer to outright omniscience, the Technosphere is an emergent intelligence in its own right.

The harm to the environment, society, and our individual lives is plain to see, but is brushed off amid hollow mantras about productivity, progress, and the graven idol of economic growth. Shrinking the Technosphere guides readers through the process of bringing technology down to a manageable number of carefully chosen, essential, well-understood, and controllable elements. It is about regaining the freedom to use technology for our own benefit, and is critical reading for all who seek to get back to a point where technologies assist us rather than control us. The endgame of the Technosphere is total domination; the outcome will be total destruction. But can humanity take back control before digital Armageddon finally dawns?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What is Homesteading?

Prosperous Homesteading has been out for a little over a week now and has been selling extremely well. But based on the feedback so far, the concept of “homesteading,” as defined in this very practical book, needs to be better explained. Yes, you can register your house as a “homestead” to shield it from foreclosure or to lower your taxes; would you then be homesteading? No.

Homesteading is not a hobby, a business or an individual pursuit; it is the main activity of a family. It is an essential “lifehack”—a way to get around the strictures imposed on us by a crumbling society that is set in its ways and incapable of even considering absolutely essential changes. It is about insulating yourself and your family from the vagaries of a system that is running amok, and about regaining a viable future and peace of mind.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Prosperous Homesteading

Update: as of Thursday morning, just four days since the book became available on Amazon, it has broken into the top 10,000. At this very moment, its bestseller rank stands at #6,246. So far, this is shaping up to be the most successful book I've ever published. And it certainly deserves to be: here is a book that many people can actually use to significantly improve their lives. Thank you, and please help spread the word!

If you expect the future to resemble the past, then you are very likely to be disappointed. Quite a few people understand this, but don’t know of any alternative to continuing to do what they are accustomed to doing—driving to a job, shopping, paying bills—until they no longer can. They can’t figure out anything better to do than shove their children through an overpriced educational scheme so that upon graduation they can take part in a game of economic musical chairs—until they no longer can either.

A lot of people also find the future too depressing to think about. Yes, it is depressing to think about cities and suburbs with no electricity, running water or functioning sewers, buried in rotting garbage and trash and overrun by feral dogs and armed gangs. It is far more pleasant to escape into a fantasy world where renewable energy saves the day as soon as the fossil fuel industry gets out of its way, or where the fossil fuel industry saves the day as soon as the environmentalists get out of its way, or some other politically motivated nonsense.

One question that doesn’t seem to be asked enough is, What alternative is there that actually works? The answer is surprising: there are hundreds of thousands of people living throughout North America who will be largely unaffected by the dismal scenario outlined above. When the electric grid fails, they won’t even notice. When cities and suburbs became uninhabitable due to filth and crime, they won’t even know about it. When starving vagabonds come trudging by their homestead, they will be fed a good meal and gratefully move on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Women on the verge

A conversation between two of my friends, James Howard Kunstler and Piero San Giorgio, about Piero's recent book, which I translated and published. Please have a listen.

You are not in control

My recent book tour was very valuable, among other things, in gauging audience response to the various topics related to the technosphere and its control over us. Specifically, what seems to be generally missing is an understanding that the technosphere doesn’t just control technology; it controls our minds as well. The technosphere doesn’t just prevent us from choosing technologies that we think may be appropriate and rejecting the ones that aren’t. It controls our tastes, making us prefer things that it prefers for its own reasons. It also controls our values, aligning them with its own. And it controls our bodies, causing us to treat ourselves as if we were mechanisms rather than symbiotic communities of living cells (human and otherwise).

None of this invalidates the approach I proposed for shrinking the technosphere which is based on a harm/benefit analysis and allows us to ratchet down our technology choices by always picking technologies with the least harm and the greatest benefit. But this approach only works if the analysis is informed by our own tastes, not the tastes imposed on us by the technosphere, by our values, not the technosphere’s values, and by our rejection of a mechanistic conception of our selves. These choices are implicit in the 32 criteria used in harm/benefit analysis, favoring local over global, group interests over individual interests, artisanal over industrial and so on. But I think it would be helpful to make these choices explicit, by working through an example of each of the three types of control listed above. This week I'll tackle the first of these.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Parbuckle and Launch

Most of what it will take to assemble QUIDNON from a kit is quite easy. The plywood panels that make up the core of the hull are fitted together using mortise and tenon joins which are then fixed in place using wedges driven in with a mallet. Outer layers of plywood are glued on and screwed in place using an electric drill. Joints are saturated with epoxy and filleted using brushes and other hand tools. An outer layer of fiberglass is applied to the hull by draping it in fiberglass cloth and saturating it with epoxy using rollers. Most of these are fun activities for family and friends. But there are two operations that are daunting for even the seasoned and experienced DIY people: flipping the hull over, and launching it.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

It's the Saudis, Stupid!

[I am still in recovery from the book tour (which went well), so here is a timely rerun. Trump just banned entry to migrants from a list of “terrorist” countries that had been concocted by the Obama administration. Missing from that list is terrorist country number one: Saudi Arabia. It would be too much to hope that Trump will amend Obama's list, however; no matter who happens to be president, the US and the Saudis are pretty much joined at the hip.]

[Just nine days after I pointed out that Obama's latest “humanitarian” bombing puts American lives in danger, we have the video of the journalist James Foley's beheading at the hands of Daash, a.k.a. Islamic Caliphate, a.k.a. ISIS/ISIL. Well, that didn't take long! But there is more to the story: what stands behind this event, and others, such as 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Benghazi massacre and numerous other acts of terror is none other than America's best friend, the House of Saud. Here is a post by my friend Idris to explain this vital connection.]

The recent rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, along with its bedfellow Jahbat Al-Nusra (JN) is being viewed with alarm worldwide. It is the latest in a series of problems related to Islamic extremism for which Al Qaeda is the poster child. From Somalia to Yemen to Nigeria to the Levant to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Chechnya to Xinjiang, China and even raising its head among the populations of western countries, both Muslim and non-Muslim are facing the ravages of the Salafi/Takfiri Nexus of Jihad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In Psychopaths We Trust

There is a new executive team taking over in Washington. Some people view this development with cautious optimism, others quake in trepidation, gnash their teeth, rend their garments and scatter ashes over the heads Old Testament-style. Those who expect things to be a bit different in Washington now can point to something rather specific: in his inaugural address, Trump used words never before heard in an inauguration speech: words like “bleed,” “carnage,” “depletion,” “disrepair,” “ripped,” “rusted,” “sad,” “stolen” and “trapped.” These words describe the real United States, not the fake United States concocted by politicians, the media and wealthy elites. The fake United States is close to full employment; the real United States has sidelined close to 100 million unemployed workers. In the fake United States the economy has recovered and is growing nicely; the real United States is sinking ever deeper into unrepayable debt, rushing headlong toward inevitable national bankruptcy. It would seem that Trump is interested in reality whereas his predecessor excelled in deluding himself—and others. This would indicate that perhaps the new boss won't be the same as the old boss.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

East Coast Book Tour

Later this month I'll be appearing at the following bookstores to give a talk and to sign copies of Shrinking the Technosphere:

Tuesday, January 24, 17:30—18:30
Firestorm
Asheville, North Carolina

Wednesday, January 25, 19:00—20:00
Flyleaf
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Thursday, January 26, 19:00 – 20:15
Quail Ridge Books
Raleigh, North Carolina

Friday, January 27, 19:00—20:00
Four Seasons
Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Hope to see you there!

If you are interested in inviting me for a talk and a book signing, please email EJ at newsociety.com.

The Day the World Changes

We are conditioned to think of change as lots of small changes—a continuum—although history tends to be punctuated by large, unforeseen events that are only understood after the fact. Last year's reconquest of Aleppo was one such incident. People are still assuming that Pax Americana is still an item; well, we'll just have to see. The US defense establishment may have just joined higher education, medicine and, of course, finance as just another brazen swindle.

Whenever something big happens, people become confused. Is a power cut just a temporary glitch in the grid, or is it the end of the grid?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wherefore Goes Germany?

About a year ago, in of a mood of despair and a sense of looming danger, I wrote an article, which Dmitry was kind enough to publish on his blog, titled Exit Strategy for Traitors. This article is an update. Nothing has changed fundamentally, but a lot has happened, and the situation has improved in just one single respect.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money

A lot of the sharper-minded commentators have recently started pointing out a problem with Donald Trump’s plan to “make America great again”: lack of funds. The US is bankrupt: sinking ever-further into unrepayable debt, unable to achieve a rate of economic growth that could ever catch up with its growing debt burden. It is in the midst of a giant financial bubble that is propped up by various scams and rackets, from car loans whose term exceeds the useful lifetime of the car, to retirement fund shortfalls caused by effectively negative interest rates, to educational debt that condemns ever more young people to a lifetime of indentured servitude, to the medical racket which is now eating up over 20% of the economy while delivering some of the worst levels of well-being in the entire developed world… Attempts to fix any of these problems would inevitably run into long-standing, intractable political conflicts and contradictions and go nowhere while also bursting the financial bubble and turning the political realm into one very large and angry poop party. Better not even go there!

And so Trump’s plan to “make America great again” through infrastructure spending, repatriating manufacturing jobs and other great quests will have to wait, possibly forever. All of these things would require taking on even more debt, even as around the world everyone tries to unload US debt as fast as possible, leaving the Federal Reserve as the debt-buyer of last resort. This would have the effect of turning US sovereign debt into a pure Ponzi scheme, and Ponzi schemes don’t go on for too long. But if the requirement to “make America great again” is nonnegotiable, what alternatives are there?